Thursday, May 21, 2009

Engineering -- New Magic for Women’s Health Care

Just about the time Alexander Winchell, a professor of physics and civil engineering, stepped into a classroom and taught the first engineering class at the University of Michigan, a middle-aged woman by the name of Lydia E. Pinkham was 1,000 miles to the east, throwing herbs and alcohol into a pot on her kitchen stove. The year was 1854. For the University of Michigan, it was the beginning of a new chapter in education and research. For Pinkham, a pioneer in the pursuit of women's health and social rights, it was the start of a new phase in women's health care, because she was brewing an elixir that would become the most successful patent medicine of the century, and would have profound effects on women and women's health care. She didn't have an inkling that engineering would do more for her cause than her home brew ever would.

She never could've envisioned engineering professor Mohamed El-Sayed developing "smart particles" that enter cancer cells to deliver therapeutic drugs, killing the diseased cells without damaging the healthy cells nearby. Nor could she have foreseen the work of biomedical engineering professor Shu Takayama, who's investigating technology to reduce the burden on women during in vitro fertilization procedures. "We hope that better pregnancy rates will reduce the burden on women and improve the health of embryos, which will lead to healthier babies," Takayama said. Turning to another topic, he asked, "Why do women die from breast cancer? In most cases, it's because the tumor metastasizes to other parts of the body -- that's when the tumor really becomes deadly. If we could understand how tumor cells move through the blood stream to other organs and develop methods to stop the process, we could prevent metastasis and help cure breast cancer. We developed a microfluidic model of breast cancer metastasis. Now we can watch cancer cells flow through an engineered blood vessel to sites of metastasis. The model has allowed identification of new targets for anti-metastasis drugs."

Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound was as unsophisticated as the doctors of her day -- they believed that almost all of women's sicknesses arose from their reproductive organs. Surgeons removed healthy ovaries for little or no reason -- a practice that had a mortality rate as high as 40 percent. So despite Pinkham's naiveté and the artless nature of her potion, when it burst on to the scene, offering an alternative to those barbaric practices, it flew off the shelves.

One hundred and fifty years ago, women pinned their hopes for better health care on an elixir  that resembled a witch's brew more than it did medicine. Today their hopes lie with technology so complex and so incomprehensible to the average Joe and Jane that it too appears to be magic. 

Read more about engineering and women’s health care:

Biomechanical analyses of anterior vaginal wall prolapse: MRI and computer modeling studies

Effect of Ultrasound on Penetration of Nanoparticles into Breast Cancer Spheroids

Experimental and Computational Analysis of Cancer Signaling Networks

Development of a Surgical Thermal Management System for the Elimination of Collateral Tissue Damage


Innovation for Women's Health -- the new MRI breast scanner


Platform Technology to Develop a Topical Cream to Treat Breast Pain

FDA Critical Path Initiative Can Advance Women's Health Through Modern Research and Analysis Methods


Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Engineering -- New Magic for Women’s Health Care

Just about the time Alexander Winchell, a professor of physics and civil engineering, stepped into a classroom and taught the first engineering class at the University of Michigan, a middle-aged woman by the name of Lydia E. Pinkham was 1,000 miles to the east, throwing herbs and alcohol into a pot on her kitchen stove. The year was 1854. For the University of Michigan, it was the beginning of a new chapter in education and research. For Pinkham, a pioneer in the pursuit of women's health and social rights, it was the start of a new phase in women's health care, because she was brewing an elixir that would become the most successful patent medicine of the century, and would have profound effects on women and women's health care. She didn't have an inkling that engineering would do more for her cause than her home brew ever would.

She never could've envisioned engineering professor Mohamed El-Sayed developing "smart particles" that enter cancer cells to deliver therapeutic drugs, killing the diseased cells without damaging the healthy cells nearby. Nor could she have foreseen the work of biomedical engineering professor Shu Takayama, who's investigating technology to reduce the burden on women during in vitro fertilization procedures. "We hope that better pregnancy rates will reduce the burden on women and improve the health of embryos, which will lead to healthier babies," Takayama said. Turning to another topic, he asked, "Why do women die from breast cancer? In most cases, it's because the tumor metastasizes to other parts of the body -- that's when the tumor really becomes deadly. If we could understand how tumor cells move through the blood stream to other organs and develop methods to stop the process, we could prevent metastasis and help cure breast cancer. We developed a microfluidic model of breast cancer metastasis. Now we can watch cancer cells flow through an engineered blood vessel to sites of metastasis. The model has allowed identification of new targets for anti-metastasis drugs."

Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound was as unsophisticated as the doctors of her day -- they believed that almost all of women's sicknesses arose from their reproductive organs. Surgeons removed healthy ovaries for little or no reason -- a practice that had a mortality rate as high as 40 percent. So despite Pinkham's naiveté and the artless nature of her potion, when it burst on to the scene, offering an alternative to those barbaric practices, it flew off the shelves.

One hundred and fifty years ago, women pinned their hopes for better health care on an elixir  that resembled a witch's brew more than it did medicine. Today their hopes lie with technology so complex and so incomprehensible to the average Joe and Jane that it too appears to be magic. 

Read more about engineering and women’s health care:

Biomechanical analyses of anterior vaginal wall prolapse: MRI and computer modeling studies

Effect of Ultrasound on Penetration of Nanoparticles into Breast Cancer Spheroids

Experimental and Computational Analysis of Cancer Signaling Networks

Development of a Surgical Thermal Management System for the Elimination of Collateral Tissue Damage


Innovation for Women's Health -- the new MRI breast scanner


Platform Technology to Develop a Topical Cream to Treat Breast Pain

FDA Critical Path Initiative Can Advance Women's Health Through Modern Research and Analysis Methods


Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, May 18, 2009

Engineering FUNdamentals -- the Programmer and the Engineer

Folks have said a lot of things about engineers, such as, "The adult human body has 206 bones... except for engineers who have 205. They're missing a funny bone." But I don't believe it. Just the other day I overheard a biomedical engineer relating this story...


A programmer and an engineer are sitting next to each other on a long flight from Los Angeles to New York. The programmer leans over to the engineer and says, "I hate these long flights. Boring, ya' know? How about we play a game to pass the time?" The engineer just wants to nap, so he politely declines and rolls over to the window to catch a few winks.

The programmer, one of those persistent types who interprets "no" to mean "go ahead, ask me again," says, "Look, it's easy, it's fun, it'll pass the time."


The engineer grunts and burrows deeper into the seat. The programmer taps him on the shoulder. "I ask you a question, and if you don't know the answer, you pay me $5. Then you ask me a question, and if I don't know the answer, I pay you $5."

Getting a bit ticked off, the engineer glares at the programmer and declines -- more forefully than before -- then turns over again to sleep.

The programmer, now somewhat agitated, says, "OK, if you don't know the answer, you pay me $5, and if I don't know the answer, I'll pay you $50!"

This catches the engineer's attention, and since there seemed no other way to shut up the programmer, he agrees to play the game. The programmer asks the first question: "What's the distance from the Earth to the moon?"


The engineer doesn't say a word, but simply reaches into his wallet, pulls out a five-dollar bill, and hands it to the programmer. Now, it's the engineer's turn. He asks the programmer, "What goes up a hill with three legs and comes down on four?"

A dark, puzzled look takes over the programmer's face. Frantic, he fires up his laptop computer and searches all of the reference texts on his hard drive. Nothing. He checks the Library of Congress webpage. Nothing. He sends instant messages to his programmer friends. Nothing. Frustrated, he emails his old professors -- all to no avail. After about an hour, he nudges the engineer and hands him $50. Without saying a word, the engineer pockets the $50, turns away and tries to get back to sleep.

The programmer, more than a little miffed, shakes the engineer again and says, "Well, what's the answer?" Without a word, the engineer reaches into his wallet, hands the programmer $5, then turns away and goes to sleep.





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Engineering FUNdamentals -- the Programmer and the Engineer

Folks have said a lot of things about engineers, such as, "The adult human body has 206 bones... except for engineers who have 205. They're missing a funny bone." But I don't believe it. Just the other day I overheard a biomedical engineer relating this story...


A programmer and an engineer are sitting next to each other on a long flight from Los Angeles to New York. The programmer leans over to the engineer and says, "I hate these long flights. Boring, ya' know? How about we play a game to pass the time?" The engineer just wants to nap, so he politely declines and rolls over to the window to catch a few winks.

The programmer, one of those persistent types who interprets "no" to mean "go ahead, ask me again," says, "Look, it's easy, it's fun, it'll pass the time."


The engineer grunts and burrows deeper into the seat. The programmer taps him on the shoulder. "I ask you a question, and if you don't know the answer, you pay me $5. Then you ask me a question, and if I don't know the answer, I pay you $5."

Getting a bit ticked off, the engineer glares at the programmer and declines -- more forefully than before -- then turns over again to sleep.

The programmer, now somewhat agitated, says, "OK, if you don't know the answer, you pay me $5, and if I don't know the answer, I'll pay you $50!"

This catches the engineer's attention, and since there seemed no other way to shut up the programmer, he agrees to play the game. The programmer asks the first question: "What's the distance from the Earth to the moon?"


The engineer doesn't say a word, but simply reaches into his wallet, pulls out a five-dollar bill, and hands it to the programmer. Now, it's the engineer's turn. He asks the programmer, "What goes up a hill with three legs and comes down on four?"

A dark, puzzled look takes over the programmer's face. Frantic, he fires up his laptop computer and searches all of the reference texts on his hard drive. Nothing. He checks the Library of Congress webpage. Nothing. He sends instant messages to his programmer friends. Nothing. Frustrated, he emails his old professors -- all to no avail. After about an hour, he nudges the engineer and hands him $50. Without saying a word, the engineer pockets the $50, turns away and tries to get back to sleep.

The programmer, more than a little miffed, shakes the engineer again and says, "Well, what's the answer?" Without a word, the engineer reaches into his wallet, hands the programmer $5, then turns away and goes to sleep.





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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Energy-Water-Technology Triangle - Part III

Developing Clean Technologies -- the Motivation 
Means, motive, opportunity. Sherlock Holmes used them to deduce a suspect's guilt or innocence. If we were use them in a similar way to evaluate the development of clean technologies, we'd find that everyone has the opportunity, and a number of folks are developing the means. But we'd see that motivation is a problem -- it's a sad statement about the human condition, but we don't seem to do much until we find ourselves in crisis.

So, what's the motivation for investing in the development of technologies that'll be friendly to the environment and still produce enough energy to keep things humming along? I count three. One is government mandate (do it or else). Another is entrepreneurship (there’s good money to be had). The third is a combination of the two; I'll get to that in a moment. Unfortunately, creating clean technology and clean energy just for the sake of preserving a viable planet doesn't seem to motivate enough people to get the job done -- we've been talking about a sustainable environment for decades but haven't made a worthwhile effort.

In the "money to be had" category of motivation, there are numerous examples of incentives in which money was the key motivator. For example, the U.S. wouldn’t have jumped into the pursuit of wind technology if it weren't for the production tax credit; a $7,500 tax deduction boosted the adoption of plug-in hybrid vehicles, and the driving factor behind investment in wind, solar, biomethane, etc. is the fact that 24 states and the District of Columbia have renewable portfolio standardsCalifornia's rooftop initiative and financial entrepreneurs propelled the rise of solar. The fact is, many of the solutions to dealing with climate change exist but, for the most part, U.S. government policies are running a few lengths behind -- plus, it isn't government's role to pick technologies to develop because government tends to be short-sighted, focusing more on legislation than on promoting the creation of smart solutions that'll thrive because the marketplace wants them.

As a result, the U.S. CleanTech industry gave us bioethanol, which has advantages and disadvantages.  The latter far outweigh the former -- the production of bioethanol using corn requires 29 percent more fossil energy than the ethanol fuel produced, it's highly corrosive and consumes 20 or more times as much water for every mile traveled than the production of gasoline. When scaling up to the 2.7 trillion miles that U.S. passenger vehicles travel a year, water could well become a limiting factor. 
An increase in the production of bioethanol reduces the volume of of available food -- we might be fueling hunger more efficiently that we would our cars and trucks. All I can say about ethanol as fuel is, "No way."

In the "do it or else" category, government mandates will force companies to change their ways. Yale law professor Daniel Esty thinks this "top-down" approach will take us where we want to go -- private business will create clean-tech solutions but only if government applies pressure, such as price caps or penalties that, directly or indirectly, force companies to pay for the carbon dioxide they emit, and those penalties would be high enough to encourage firms to find inexpensive, green solutions.

In contrast, Vinod Khosla is a venture capitalist who believes government mandates produce uneconomical solutions that, due to high costs, aren’t widely adopted. He favors the idea of entrepreneurs using private capital (in some cases with some short-term government assistance) to provide solutions cheap enough to use in the most desolate backwater sites in the nation -- and even in developing countries, which is necessary because climate change is a global problem. Minimal government regulation would be required.

According to Peter Adriaens, an engineering professor at the University of Michigan, Esty's and Khosla's views are less in opposition as they appear. "The policy argument and the entrepreneurship argument are extensions of one another," he said. "The perspective is also colored by the fact that Esty has written extensively about -- and has worked on -- greening the supply chain and climate change, whereas Khosla -- his brilliance notwithstanding -- is an IT person who has recently moved into the Cleantech space and is still trying to figure out how to make money there."
(and that China and Europe have strong policy mandates, and thus market opportunities).
Policy mandates and entrepreneurial ventures do, indeed, drive CleanTech investment and the adoption of scalable technology. But the investment required to develop cheap, clean technologies is huge -- orders of magnitude larger than that of IT innovations, and the time from the beginning of development to implementation is considerable because working out the bugs takes time and money, both of which are in short supply.

Policy makers and investors aren't considering the whole picture. “Cheap” doesn’t have to an operative word in developing CleanTech solutions. Over time, new technology has a tendency – as do other products – to become indistinguishable from others that eventually develop to solve the same problems. When that happens, consumers select technology on price alone, a happenstance that drives prices down. Profits will follow.

"Technology adoption cycles start with small market slices at high margins," Adriaens said. "Early adopter markets are less price sensitive. We can achieve the results Khosla is looking for once the technology becomes commoditized, standards are adopted, and policies -- taxes, for example -- foster wider adoption of a suite of solutions. In the IT space, you can compare this with policy decisions by companies to only support PCs or Blackberrys or their equivalents (i.e., not Mac or iPhone) -- and this becomes the de facto business standard, which increases adoption, drives down prices and promotes competition. 
 
"I firmly believe in the bottom up approach for investment in entrepreneurial solutions," Adriaens said, "however, the entrepreneur's business environment is dictated -- at least for renewable energy -- by policy and price signals.  The market success of an entrepreneur's solution will always be dependent on competition, based on cost and complexity, with current alternative solutions." 

The third method of motivation that I mentioned is a combination of top-down and bottom-up approaches -- call it the middle-method -- in which both government and corporations become major investors in entrepreneurial ventures, and entrepreneurs are subject to deadlines and possible penalties, as corporations are. In confronting the energy-water-technology crisis, everyone should have the means, motive and opportunity; everyone should be accountable.









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The Energy-Water-Technology Triangle - Part III

Developing Clean Technologies -- the Motivation 
Means, motive, opportunity. Sherlock Holmes used them to deduce a suspect's guilt or innocence. If we were use them in a similar way to evaluate the development of clean technologies, we'd find that everyone has the opportunity, and a number of folks are developing the means. But we'd see that motivation is a problem -- it's a sad statement about the human condition, but we don't seem to do much until we find ourselves in crisis.

So, what's the motivation for investing in the development of technologies that'll be friendly to the environment and still produce enough energy to keep things humming along? I count three. One is government mandate (do it or else). Another is entrepreneurship (there’s good money to be had). The third is a combination of the two; I'll get to that in a moment. Unfortunately, creating clean technology and clean energy just for the sake of preserving a viable planet doesn't seem to motivate enough people to get the job done -- we've been talking about a sustainable environment for decades but haven't made a worthwhile effort.

In the "money to be had" category of motivation, there are numerous examples of incentives in which money was the key motivator. For example, the U.S. wouldn’t have jumped into the pursuit of wind technology if it weren't for the production tax credit; a $7,500 tax deduction boosted the adoption of plug-in hybrid vehicles, and the driving factor behind investment in wind, solar, biomethane, etc. is the fact that 24 states and the District of Columbia have renewable portfolio standardsCalifornia's rooftop initiative and financial entrepreneurs propelled the rise of solar. The fact is, many of the solutions to dealing with climate change exist but, for the most part, U.S. government policies are running a few lengths behind -- plus, it isn't government's role to pick technologies to develop because government tends to be short-sighted, focusing more on legislation than on promoting the creation of smart solutions that'll thrive because the marketplace wants them.

As a result, the U.S. CleanTech industry gave us bioethanol, which has advantages and disadvantages.  The latter far outweigh the former -- the production of bioethanol using corn requires 29 percent more fossil energy than the ethanol fuel produced, it's highly corrosive and consumes 20 or more times as much water for every mile traveled than the production of gasoline. When scaling up to the 2.7 trillion miles that U.S. passenger vehicles travel a year, water could well become a limiting factor. 
An increase in the production of bioethanol reduces the volume of of available food -- we might be fueling hunger more efficiently that we would our cars and trucks. All I can say about ethanol as fuel is, "No way."

In the "do it or else" category, government mandates will force companies to change their ways. Yale law professor Daniel Esty thinks this "top-down" approach will take us where we want to go -- private business will create clean-tech solutions but only if government applies pressure, such as price caps or penalties that, directly or indirectly, force companies to pay for the carbon dioxide they emit, and those penalties would be high enough to encourage firms to find inexpensive, green solutions.

In contrast, Vinod Khosla is a venture capitalist who believes government mandates produce uneconomical solutions that, due to high costs, aren’t widely adopted. He favors the idea of entrepreneurs using private capital (in some cases with some short-term government assistance) to provide solutions cheap enough to use in the most desolate backwater sites in the nation -- and even in developing countries, which is necessary because climate change is a global problem. Minimal government regulation would be required.

According to Peter Adriaens, an engineering professor at the University of Michigan, Esty's and Khosla's views are less in opposition as they appear. "The policy argument and the entrepreneurship argument are extensions of one another," he said. "The perspective is also colored by the fact that Esty has written extensively about -- and has worked on -- greening the supply chain and climate change, whereas Khosla -- his brilliance notwithstanding -- is an IT person who has recently moved into the Cleantech space and is still trying to figure out how to make money there."
(and that China and Europe have strong policy mandates, and thus market opportunities).
Policy mandates and entrepreneurial ventures do, indeed, drive CleanTech investment and the adoption of scalable technology. But the investment required to develop cheap, clean technologies is huge -- orders of magnitude larger than that of IT innovations, and the time from the beginning of development to implementation is considerable because working out the bugs takes time and money, both of which are in short supply.

Policy makers and investors aren't considering the whole picture. “Cheap” doesn’t have to an operative word in developing CleanTech solutions. Over time, new technology has a tendency – as do other products – to become indistinguishable from others that eventually develop to solve the same problems. When that happens, consumers select technology on price alone, a happenstance that drives prices down. Profits will follow.

"Technology adoption cycles start with small market slices at high margins," Adriaens said. "Early adopter markets are less price sensitive. We can achieve the results Khosla is looking for once the technology becomes commoditized, standards are adopted, and policies -- taxes, for example -- foster wider adoption of a suite of solutions. In the IT space, you can compare this with policy decisions by companies to only support PCs or Blackberrys or their equivalents (i.e., not Mac or iPhone) -- and this becomes the de facto business standard, which increases adoption, drives down prices and promotes competition. 
 
"I firmly believe in the bottom up approach for investment in entrepreneurial solutions," Adriaens said, "however, the entrepreneur's business environment is dictated -- at least for renewable energy -- by policy and price signals.  The market success of an entrepreneur's solution will always be dependent on competition, based on cost and complexity, with current alternative solutions." 

The third method of motivation that I mentioned is a combination of top-down and bottom-up approaches -- call it the middle-method -- in which both government and corporations become major investors in entrepreneurial ventures, and entrepreneurs are subject to deadlines and possible penalties, as corporations are. In confronting the energy-water-technology crisis, everyone should have the means, motive and opportunity; everyone should be accountable.









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Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Energy-Water-Technology Triangle - Part II

The Energy-Water Nexus Program

Because the issues associated with water and energy are so complex, the resolutions will require innovative technologies and new, comprehensive public policies, legal approaches and business practices. So assembling a multi-disciplinary team to study the energy-water nexus is a natural.

The University of Michigan put together a team with members from the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, the Survey Research Center at the Institute for Social Research, the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, the Erb InstituteSchool of Natural Resources and Environment.

One of the team’s primary investigations will delve into the opportunities to conserve water in current operations, and to use impaired water and saltwater. (Impaired water is water with impurities that require treatment before it can be used for cooling -- wastewater, for example, as well as water from mining operations, and irrigation drainage.)

"We'll study the costs and benefits of using treatment technologies for impaired water,” said Peter Adriaens. “We’ll also look into the costs of retrofit technologies to improve efficiencies of existing plants. This will entail an analysis of the impact that various technologies have on the lifecycle of water as it flows through power plants. We'll weigh options for water recovery, conservation potential and environmental impact. And there will be a very close examination of alternative cooling systems, which might include new ways of dry cooling or using new configurations of existing cooling options."

By program's end, the Energy-Water Nexus team expects to identify technologies and plant designs that will make it possible to reduce the use of freshwater up to 10 percent in the generation of thermoelectric power.

To facilitate the development and implementation of technology for water conservation, the team members will pursue non-technical issues, including a policy and economic framework to incentivize both industry and the consumers. "The electric utilities industry is very competitive and driven by legislative pressures to implement technologies," Adriaens said, "and currently their focus is on curbing atmospheric emissions. At the same time, it's unclear whether the general public understands the connection of energy production to water, and how this knowledge would influence consumer behavior. We want to give utilities an economic reason to make water sustainability an integral part of energy generation, and explore how water valuation for energy generation may create better pricing strategies."

Christian Lastoskie noted that, in cooperation with those units, the Energy-Water Nexus program "will collect survey data to explore the demand-side incentives for energy -- and thus water -- conservation. In conjunction with that study, the program will analyze market-based policy alternatives in collaboration with practitioners (e.g., LimnoTech, a company that focuses on solving the nation's water quality problems) to evaluate supply-side incentives for the utilities industry to adopt and incorporate technology-based solutions."

This technology-policy framework creates conditions in which there's not only enormous economic and commercial value in developing and implementing technology for water conservation but also ample opportunity for entrepreneurs to do so. This is why the team engaged the Samuel Zell and Robert H. Lurie Institute, which conducts entrepreneurial studies. "Ultimately, the energy-water nexus business opportunities for these enabling technologies require strategic positioning," Adriaens said. "We're seeing innovative companies such as General Electric investing heavily to serve this future need for integrated energy-water solutions. It isn't clear at this time which technology solutions will best serve the needs of the utilities sector, what the market demand will be as the power generating capacity changes, nor what the price point will be to trigger investment."

By directly engaging with business development programs, the team is positioning itself to take advantage of venture investment in clean-technology business development.

The need and timeliness of this program can't be understated. The Department of Energy's Nexus roadmap states that technologies need to be ready to deploy by 2015.

Adriaens pointed out that "successful implementation of nexus innovations will depend on proactive partnerships with the utilities industry and the Electric Power Research Institute, nexus managers at the National Energy Technology Laboratory, and policymakers. It won't be easy, but we have the horses to get the job done."

Additional reading: Energy Demands on Water Resources: A Report to Congress on the Interdependency of Energy and Water

Part III: Developing Clean Technologies -- the Motivation






















Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

The Energy-Water-Technology Triangle - Part II

The Energy-Water Nexus Program

Because the issues associated with water and energy are so complex, the resolutions will require innovative technologies and new, comprehensive public policies, legal approaches and business practices. So assembling a multi-disciplinary team to study the energy-water nexus is a natural.

The University of Michigan put together a team with members from the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, the Survey Research Center at the Institute for Social Research, the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, the Erb InstituteSchool of Natural Resources and Environment.

One of the team’s primary investigations will delve into the opportunities to conserve water in current operations, and to use impaired water and saltwater. (Impaired water is water with impurities that require treatment before it can be used for cooling -- wastewater, for example, as well as water from mining operations, and irrigation drainage.)

"We'll study the costs and benefits of using treatment technologies for impaired water,” said Peter Adriaens. “We’ll also look into the costs of retrofit technologies to improve efficiencies of existing plants. This will entail an analysis of the impact that various technologies have on the lifecycle of water as it flows through power plants. We'll weigh options for water recovery, conservation potential and environmental impact. And there will be a very close examination of alternative cooling systems, which might include new ways of dry cooling or using new configurations of existing cooling options."

By program's end, the Energy-Water Nexus team expects to identify technologies and plant designs that will make it possible to reduce the use of freshwater up to 10 percent in the generation of thermoelectric power.

To facilitate the development and implementation of technology for water conservation, the team members will pursue non-technical issues, including a policy and economic framework to incentivize both industry and the consumers. "The electric utilities industry is very competitive and driven by legislative pressures to implement technologies," Adriaens said, "and currently their focus is on curbing atmospheric emissions. At the same time, it's unclear whether the general public understands the connection of energy production to water, and how this knowledge would influence consumer behavior. We want to give utilities an economic reason to make water sustainability an integral part of energy generation, and explore how water valuation for energy generation may create better pricing strategies."

Christian Lastoskie noted that, in cooperation with those units, the Energy-Water Nexus program "will collect survey data to explore the demand-side incentives for energy -- and thus water -- conservation. In conjunction with that study, the program will analyze market-based policy alternatives in collaboration with practitioners (e.g., LimnoTech, a company that focuses on solving the nation's water quality problems) to evaluate supply-side incentives for the utilities industry to adopt and incorporate technology-based solutions."

This technology-policy framework creates conditions in which there's not only enormous economic and commercial value in developing and implementing technology for water conservation but also ample opportunity for entrepreneurs to do so. This is why the team engaged the Samuel Zell and Robert H. Lurie Institute, which conducts entrepreneurial studies. "Ultimately, the energy-water nexus business opportunities for these enabling technologies require strategic positioning," Adriaens said. "We're seeing innovative companies such as General Electric investing heavily to serve this future need for integrated energy-water solutions. It isn't clear at this time which technology solutions will best serve the needs of the utilities sector, what the market demand will be as the power generating capacity changes, nor what the price point will be to trigger investment."

By directly engaging with business development programs, the team is positioning itself to take advantage of venture investment in clean-technology business development.

The need and timeliness of this program can't be understated. The Department of Energy's Nexus roadmap states that technologies need to be ready to deploy by 2015.

Adriaens pointed out that "successful implementation of nexus innovations will depend on proactive partnerships with the utilities industry and the Electric Power Research Institute, nexus managers at the National Energy Technology Laboratory, and policymakers. It won't be easy, but we have the horses to get the job done."

Additional reading: Energy Demands on Water Resources: A Report to Congress on the Interdependency of Energy and Water

Part III: Developing Clean Technologies -- the Motivation






















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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Energy-Water-Technology Triangle - Part I


The
Energy and water. The two are inextricably bound because the generation of the former requires a staggering volume of the latter. And getting maximum power from the least amount of water while producing effluents that meet acceptable government standards -- that's a monumental task, demanding technologies which don't currently exist.

In 2000, thermoelectric power generation in the United States used 195,000 million gallons of fresh water per day - that's enough to supply Ann Arbor, Michigan, with drinking water for more than 30 years. In addition to using vast supplies of fresh water, power plants consume energy as they bring the water from the source. In other words, it takes energy to make energy.

Furthermore, pollutants build up in a power plant's boilers and cooling systems, creating highly saline solutions. If the plant discharges that water into a lake or river, the contaminants could harm fish and plants. At the same time, burning fossil fuels to generate electricity releases greenhouse gases that acidify bodies of water and can affect air quality hundreds of miles away. If rain falls on coal stored in piles outside power plants, the runoff can wash out heavy metals, such as arsenic and lead, and carry them into nearby bodies of water or into the ground water. To say that the interrelated problems are complex is an understatement.

University of Michigan engineering professors Peter Adriaens and Christian Lastoskie have put together a team to take on water-energy challenges.

"Technology is key," Adriaens said. "But supplying the energy grid in a sustainable manner is equally an issue of public health, business entrepreneurialism, environmental law and public policy - they're all aspects of the problems and solutions associated with water and energy. The University of Michigan is traditionally strong in all of those areas, so we're well-equipped to address the issues. And they're important issues. It's no exaggeration to say that sustainable economic growth depends on solving the problems related to the energy-water connection."

The Challenges
The competition for fresh water is fierce - thermoelectric generation uses 40 percent, agriculture devours another 40 percent, and about 20 percent finds its way to other segments, all of which are integral to daily life. This competition will become even more ferocious as energy demands increase and freshwater water supplies shrink, and the population not only grows but migrates to the southwest United States, where water is already scarce. Plus, environmental regulations will become more stringent, leading to new constraints on the operation of existing power plants and the construction of new ones.


"The problems become more dramatic when you consider that, by the year 2020, our population will require an additional one hundred and fifty new high-output power plants," Adriaens said. "So we're looking at an elaborate scenario in which we'll need innovative water technologies, new environmental restrictions, new public policy and legal approaches, and an energy model that provides incentives for the power industry to continue evolving, improving its output and efficiency - it's unfortunate, but once a facility achieves a certain performance standard, there currently is little incentive to become even more productive and efficient."

The issues are significant and a comprehensive program is required to address them.

Part II: The Energy-Water Nexus Program


http://forum.engin.umich.edu/2009/05/energy-water-technology-triangle-part.html

The Energy-Water-Technology Triangle - Part I


The
Energy and water. The two are inextricably bound because the generation of the former requires a staggering volume of the latter. And getting maximum power from the least amount of water while producing effluents that meet acceptable government standards -- that's a monumental task, demanding technologies which don't currently exist.

In 2000, thermoelectric power generation in the United States used 195,000 million gallons of fresh water per day - that's enough to supply Ann Arbor, Michigan, with drinking water for more than 30 years. In addition to using vast supplies of fresh water, power plants consume energy as they bring the water from the source. In other words, it takes energy to make energy.

Furthermore, pollutants build up in a power plant's boilers and cooling systems, creating highly saline solutions. If the plant discharges that water into a lake or river, the contaminants could harm fish and plants. At the same time, burning fossil fuels to generate electricity releases greenhouse gases that acidify bodies of water and can affect air quality hundreds of miles away. If rain falls on coal stored in piles outside power plants, the runoff can wash out heavy metals, such as arsenic and lead, and carry them into nearby bodies of water or into the ground water. To say that the interrelated problems are complex is an understatement.

University of Michigan engineering professors Peter Adriaens and Christian Lastoskie have put together a team to take on water-energy challenges.

"Technology is key," Adriaens said. "But supplying the energy grid in a sustainable manner is equally an issue of public health, business entrepreneurialism, environmental law and public policy - they're all aspects of the problems and solutions associated with water and energy. The University of Michigan is traditionally strong in all of those areas, so we're well-equipped to address the issues. And they're important issues. It's no exaggeration to say that sustainable economic growth depends on solving the problems related to the energy-water connection."

The Challenges
The competition for fresh water is fierce - thermoelectric generation uses 40 percent, agriculture devours another 40 percent, and about 20 percent finds its way to other segments, all of which are integral to daily life. This competition will become even more ferocious as energy demands increase and freshwater water supplies shrink, and the population not only grows but migrates to the southwest United States, where water is already scarce. Plus, environmental regulations will become more stringent, leading to new constraints on the operation of existing power plants and the construction of new ones.


"The problems become more dramatic when you consider that, by the year 2020, our population will require an additional one hundred and fifty new high-output power plants," Adriaens said. "So we're looking at an elaborate scenario in which we'll need innovative water technologies, new environmental restrictions, new public policy and legal approaches, and an energy model that provides incentives for the power industry to continue evolving, improving its output and efficiency - it's unfortunate, but once a facility achieves a certain performance standard, there currently is little incentive to become even more productive and efficient."

The issues are significant and a comprehensive program is required to address them.

Part II: The Energy-Water Nexus Program


http://forum.engin.umich.edu/2009/05/energy-water-technology-triangle-part.html